Cookery

For this first post, I thought I’d deal with a burning issue: cookery. (It is when I’m doing it). Just as I learned from experience that green beans take a long time to fry (if you want them crisp), and that mustard and rice make a surprisingly edible meal, it’s taken me some trial and error to learn about the practice of writing. (I’m doing pretty well on the trial, and I’ve definitely got error down cold.) Herewith, then, my historical retrospective on a recipe I’ve been working on for almost half a century now.


Writer (serves variable number)

version 1

When I started to write, lo these many years ago (that’s how I wrote), I didn’t think about it at all. I just sat down, and “The Orange Donkey” flowed out. So I guess I’d say that at age 6 or 7, the recipe consisted of only one ingredient

  • Desire.
Mix thoroughly and write.

version 2

Many years later, plagued by constant inspirations, I decided to get serious about writing at last. I figured an effective way to do that would be to write when inspiration happened to coincide with desire.

  • one part desire
  • one part inspiration
Sit around and wait for story to rise.

version 3

Version 2 lasted me for over two decades, during which time I produced several hundred great ideas, roughly 40 pages of text, 1 novel outline, and a total of three completed stories (one of them good). Almost all of it was produced in the first six months.

It struck me, eventually, that my method might be a touch inefficient. When I discovered Duotrope, and coincidentally placed my oldest completed story (thanks, Absent Willow Review!), I decided to change the recipe.

I soon discovered that determination had been the key missing ingredient – the baking powder in my loaf. Within two months of fairly serious work, I produced almost two dozen completed stories. There was one week in which I literally finished a story a day. And it felt good. I got so excited that I would race the mailman – trying to complete stories in time to get them in that day’s mail. Yet despite the speed, I felt they were surprisingly good.

  • one part desire
  • one part inspiration
  • one part positive feedback
  • two parts determination
Write as if it’s a job; do something every day. Note: works best when unemployed.

version 4

Pretty soon, I had a dozen or more stories out at a time. Sure, I hadn’t had another acceptance, but then, I had learned the difference between professional and non-paying markets. I was targeting Analog now, and F&SF, and Clarkesworld. Sadly, paying work now interfered, so the prior two months’ work constituted (and still does) virtually all of my output.

  • one part desire
  • one part inspiration
  • one part positive feedback
  • two parts determination
  • four parts tenacity
Get objective feedback, and keep sending them out. Duotrope is your friend.
 

version 5

Unsurprisingly, the most important part of publishing good stories is to first actually write them.  Then send them out, and keep at it.  But now matter how good you are (or think you are), some people won’t like your work.  Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it get you down.

  • one part desire
  • one part inspiration
  • one part positive feedback
  • two parts determination
  • four parts tenacity
  • ten parts optimism
Appreciate critiques, but don’t take them to heart. If the editors understood your story, listen to them. If they didn’t, let it go.


It’s that last part that started me on this long-winded comment.  Recently, I got a rejection (from a small magazine, and for a story that’s since been published). What baffled me was that it was downright rude. Why bother? I suppose editors have grouchy days too.

Still, a few days after that angry note, I got another rejection (from a bigger venue, and for a much better story). Along with a helpful criticism or two, it said “this story is actually quite sweet and funny. Liked it.” That one hasn’t been published yet.

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